19 September 2013

Expressionists and Picasso Ceramics in Leicester

Cultural affairs in the UK, apart from Scotland, are notoriously London-centric, and, of course, the visual arts are no exception. There are arguments for this state of affairs being desirable, for instance Brian Sewell writing in an article in 2007 about the British Art Show’s return to London:
It was damned silly of the Hayward Gallery, to which the show 'belongs', to let loose its grip and allow London to be deprived of it. I know all the arguments for sharing shows of every kind with the far-flung provinces and am wholly in sympathy with them, but London provides by far the largest audience and should never have been eliminated from the circuit. It is in London, more than anywhere, that continuity matters for both the artist and the informed critical audience. (Naked Emperors p28)
In the years since Sewell’s article, London’s national supremacy has become even more firmly established with its emergence as a major international centre for contemporary art. Louisa Buck explained in the autumn 2013 Art Quarterly how this came about, and where to find it at street level. 

However, even though most major exhibitions will always be in London, the establishment of Tate St Ives in Cornwall (South West England) and, more particularly, of Tate Liverpool has done something to redress the balance in England. The efforts made by the Public Catalogue Foundation to digitise the nation’s entire collection of oil paintings and the fact that their images have been made available through BBC Your Paintings are also steps in the same direction. There is also Christopher Lloyd’s In Search of a Masterpiece: An Art Lover's Guide to Great Britain and Ireland, which provides a helpful guide for art lovers as to what is worth seeking out and looking at outside, as well as inside, the M25.

In this spirit, this post will hopefully be the first of an occasional series about some of the good things to be found across England and Wales outside London, and not just in the South West.

Anyone with an interest in the origins of Expressionism, used as a blanket term for avant-garde German art from 1905 until the Nazi ascendancy in the 1930s, will find limited opportunities to see works in Britain. The Radev Collection, recently on tour, holds Blaue strasse c1916 by Jawlensky, a member of the Blaue Reiter group. Last year, the Richard Nagy gallery in London showed a selection from the Silverman Collection including works by Otto Dix, Luwig Meidner and George Grosz. But the best permanent collection covering Der Blaue Reiter and its predecessor, Die Brücke, is that of the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester [Not on display until 2014]. The majority of the works are drawings and prints but particularly worth seeing is Franz Marc’s Rote Frau 1912 (left), “possibly the most important work by a German Expressionist to be found here [the UK]” according to Lloyd.

Lloyd does not mention that the New Walk Museum also holds the Attenborough Collection of Picasso ceramics, donated by Lord and Lady Attenborough to commemorate the members of their family who died in the Asian Tsunami in 2004. About 40 works (examples below) are on rotating display from a collection of 150 bought by the Attenboroughs from the Madoura pottery in Vallauris (near Antibes, France), starting in the mid-1950s.

Together, these ceramics and the Expressionist collection will make a visit to New Walk well worthwhile, once the latter element has returned in 2014.

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